Southern Europe’s lucrative truffle industry could vanish within a generation.
That’s the stark warning from researchers at Stirling University, who surveyed the potential damage caused by climate change.
A warmer and drier climate would be responsible for the decline, which the researchers say will have a ‘huge economic, ecological and social impact’.
They reveal it could also be accelerated by other factors, such as heatwave events, forest fires, pests and diseases.
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Southern Europe’s lucrative truffle industry could vanish within a generation. That’s the stark warning from researchers at Stirling University, who surveyed the potential damage caused by climate change (stock)
Dr Paul Thomas, from the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the university, led the research, which is the first study to consider the future threat of climate change on European truffle production.
‘Our new study predicts that, under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline by between 2071 and 2100.
‘However, the decline may well occur in advance of this date, when other climate change factors are taken into account, such as heatwaves, forest fires, drought events, pests and disease.
‘We risk losing an industry worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy. However, the socio-economic impact of the predicted decline could be substantially larger as truffle harvesting and related activities form a key component of local history and cultural activity.’
Estimates have suggested that the truffle industry’s worth could reach as much as £4.5 billion over the next 10 to 20 years.
Dr Thomas, working with Professor Ulf Büntgen at the University of Cambridge, studied continuous records, spanning 36 years, of Mediterranean truffle yield in France, Spain and Italy.
A warmer and drier climate would be responsible for the decline, which the researchers say will have a ‘huge economic, ecological and social impact’. They reveal it could also be accelerated by other factors, such as heatwave events, forest fires, pests and diseases (stock)
HOW DO YOU GROW TRUFFLES?
Historically, truffles were simply ‘found’ and could not be grown.
They were often tracked down by Truffle pigs that had an excellent nose for the fungus.
In the 19th century, many of the attempts at cultivating the truffle failed miserably.
French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once called truffles ‘the diamond of the kitchen’.
In 1825, he said: ‘The most learned men have sought to ascertain the secret [to growing truffles], and fancied they discovered the seed.
‘Their promises, however, were vain, and no planting was ever followed by a harvest.’
The truffle fungus requires a host, often the roots of a tree in order to grow properly.
Truffles are produced by inoculating the seeds of trees with the fungus.
This fragile process occurs in a greenhouse and can take some time, the trees are then planted and as the plant grows, so do the roots and, as a result, so do the truffles.
The tubers can then be harvested when they are fully developed.
‘This is a wake-up call to the impacts of climate change in the not-too-distant future,’ he added.
‘These findings indicate that conservational initiatives are required to afford some protection to this important and iconic species. Potential action could include the expansion of truffle plantations into new territories of a more favourable future climate.
‘Management strategies should further include mulching materials and cultivation practices to mitigate soil temperature fluctuations and conserve soil moisture.’
The warning comes one year after Stirling University announced that truffles were successfully cultivated in Scotland for the first time.
The aromatic fungus was grown in the root system of native oak trees at a secret site south of Edinburgh, and harvested by a specially trained sniffer-dog.
Michelin-starred Scottish chef Tom Kitchin, who tested one of the first Scottish truffles last year (2017), said it would be ‘a dream come true’ to get a good supply of the prized delicacies grown in Scotland.